Blue River (Rio Chama) – a Word Painting
Stony mesa sprawls
across the land beyond the river;
reclined here for centuries,
an aging painted beauty
burnt sienna and creviced in the sun.
Rough blankets woven of
umber and sepia rubble
stippled sap green with juniper,
higher up with piñon and oak,
drape pleated across her torso.
The blanket parts
at her bony bent knees
to reveal red rock skin
wrinkled and sagging
toward her feet;
the river flows
from between her thighs.
The Río Chama flows constricted
from the seam among hills,
bends and twists upon herself,
merges and separates,
seeks a torturous, then smooth path,
a symphony toward the Río Grande,
the Gulf of Mexico.
Cobalt mirror of sky
with streaks of lapis and pearl
disguises her origins--
vermilion silt from slick rock,
sharp lunar black granules from basalt,
china white glitters from sandstone,
suspended in clear liquor
distilled from cumulous clouds.
Watercolors flow south from Georgia’s brushes
down the serpentine riverbed.
Manganese blue sky,
a wash laid on
behind and above the mesas
with a flat, even brush.
An invisible wind
from hidden lips
at the round earth’s imagined corner.*
Scattered here and there,
with a round, sable point,
daubs of silver,
pearlescent shimmers of cloud
twist and stretch,
sail and thread
their ways across
changing cerulean heavens.
Cottonwoods bury gnarled toes
deep in sand and silt deposited
on the outer bank of a sinuous, rocky curve
where water drags her feet,
slows her race to the Gulf,
part of her gravelly burden.
They drink the Río Chama,
armor the banks against her insistent assault,
these muscular trunks
clothed in graphite gray, furrowed bark,
raise sinewy arms,
paint malachite green shadows
on river’s skin.
Supple silvery wrists and grasping bony fingers
clad in elbow-length viridian gloves.
Gleaming leafy arrowheads
on thin petioles before a downstream breeze,
point now at the river—source of life--
now at the sun—absorb its energy.
Secret in arrowhead-shaped shadows,
a thin gilt brushstroke of cadmium yellow
that will be their autumn raiment.
On inside edge,
embraced by looping curve
of river’s sweep,
lies young, smooth-skinned
sand, swept down-river in glittering bits,
deposited as water slows
its path upon the moving curve,
a simple wash of gritty ochre granules.
She hosts a few equally young trees.
Young and impressionable,
she will lift her sandy skirts,
shake loose twisted rootlets and rounded pebbles,
downstream at the sinuous whim of the ancient river’s
change of direction,
back and forth across the valley
between rocky knees,
but always south toward
Big Bend and the Gulf.
*phrase from John Donne’s Holy Sonnet 7
Janet Ruth is an emeritus research ornithologist, living in New Mexico. Her writing focuses on connections to the natural world. She has recent poems in Bird’s Thumb, Santa Fe Literary Review, two volumes of Poets Speak Anthology—HERS and WATER, and Weaving the Terrain: 100-Word Southwestern Poems. Janet and her husband have sought out and photographed New Mexico locations that Georgia O'Keeffe painted to experience for themselves the magic they hold.
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